#47 = Volume 16, Part 1 = March 1989
Soviet Science Fiction and the Ideology of Soviet
Abstract.--There is no such thing, from a human point of view at least, as
reality as it is. Some ideological model or other always mediates and informs our
perception of it. The truth of this proposition is especially evident in regard to Soviet
SF; and this is so not just because we in the West are aware of its ideological content
for its being more or less alien to us but also because Soviet SF authors generally have a
greater consciousness of ideology than do their Western counterparts.
Soviet SF through the 1970s and early '80s can be parceled out into three stages or
periods. The first of these centers around the time of the Russian Revolution reflects the
involvement with that Revolution on the part of both writers of SF and their readers.
Typically this SF features a "wonderful catastrophe": the forces of chaos
produce the collapse of the old world order, out of which comes new organization. Soviet
SF in this phase focuses on humanity rather than on the individual and concerns a conflict
between irreconcilably hostile powers (representing the old order versus the bearers of
the new). Generally speaking at least, its temporal scope (corresponding to the
Revolution's sense of urgency) is narrower and more homogeneous than its spatial
dimensions, which tend to coincide with those of the universe. Within the
"catastrophe chronotope," it exhibits a certain ideological diversity, but one
which basically reflects the varieties of National-Bolshevism and by the same token
displays a pronounced utopian impulse (in the adumbrating, if not the clear depiction, of
a new world order--though the utopian horizon may also include anti-utopian prospects, as
in the case of Zamiatin).
This first phase ended rather abruptly with the rise of Stalin. By the late 1920s or
early '30s, it had already been totally displaced by an SF which was markedly formulaic,
decidedly paranoid, and ideologically ossified. Soviet SF in this second phase continues
to revolve around a polarization of antagonistic forces, but now the conflict is between
the upholders of the Soviet State and its official ideology and villainous conspirators
and spies bent on the nefarious overthrow of that order. The utopian horizon accordingly
closes in considerably: the fictive space becomes local rather than cosmic and fictive
time increasingly contracts to the length, say, of a Five-Year Plan. So, too--and in
contrast to the SF of the Revolutionary period--what utopian prospects this SF holds out
are more or less narrowly scientific-technological (i.e., involving new gadgetry) rather
than pointing towards societal transformation.
By the late '40s and early '50s, such SF adhering to a strict ideological formula had
turned into an unwitting parody not only of itself but of the official ideology whose
tenets it was expected to uphold. It thereupon gave way, in the late '50s, to an SF that
was more ideologically open than its predecessors had been. This openness, however, did
not last much beyond the '60s, after which certain limitations were put on it (though
these were not so severe as those of the Stalinist period).
While in that regard Soviet SF of the third phase recapitulates to some extent that of
the first two, it differs from them in the way that ideology figures in its modeling of
reality. Looked upon individually, the SF works of this period are not informed and
dominated by a single ideology but instead turn on the clash of ideologies. They thereby
resuscitate the utopianism of early Soviet SF, but in qualified terms and in the form of
what are, first of all, ideological possibilities rather than social ones.
Soviet SF in this third phase reaches its high point in Efremov and the Strugatskys.
The Strugatskys' heroes are individuals (but usually type-cast individuals), whereas
Efremov concentrates on humanity at large, and likewise their respective ideological
preferences differ from one another. Nevertheless, their works share a humanistic tendency
which comes out of their common concern with offering alternative (utopian) visions: one
emanating from "official myth," the other an ideological construct opposing it
and hence calling of official ideology into question.
George E. Slusser
Structures of Apprehension: Lem, Heinlein, and the
Abstract.--What is the nature of science in SF, and what role does it play in
shaping its fictions? Is it a "theme" ? Or a "subject" ? Or does it,
as is often claimed, operate as a method of inquiry, causing fictional structures to shape
themselves around the cognitive adventure of humankind as it investigates the material
universe? Such fiction, for Stanislaw Lem, would have to focus, not on actions or
characters, but on the "structure of the description." But Lem doubts that
fiction, because its structures are traditionally limited to a human viewpoint, is
(inherently) adequate to this task. Epistemological or "cognitive" fiction for
Lem is a logical contradiction in terms. And yet Lem himself is drawn to attempt such
fiction. And to do so within the traditional frame, not just of fiction, but of SF.
This essay examines the limitations and possibilities of SF as epistemological fiction.
In order to do so, however, it modulates the problem by renaming Lem's structures of
description structures of apprehension. To apprehend is not simply to know, but to touch
and to fear as well. The term is more apt than Lem's because it takes into consideration
the fact that human science--precisely because, as Lem says, humankind's theories are
fictions, and hence mirror-images of the human mind and the mark of its inherent
limitation--is both a logical and an apprehensive process, where the fear is the loss of a
human identity itself. Apprehension is the tension on the thread that links science and
fiction in the SF compound. And SF, under the sign of this apprehension, is the fictional
form that most clearly addresses the increasing epistemological separation, first
formulated by Descartes and Pascal, between human reason and extended nature--inner and
This essay examines three existent structures of apprehension in SF: the skeptical, as
exemplified by Lem's Solaris (1971); the sentimental, as in Heinlein's Time
Enough for Love (1973); and in the Strugatskys' Roadside Picnic (1972), the
complementary. The first two remain essentially 18th-century responses to the mind-nature
duality--responses whose apprehensive nature derives from the fact that the human mind in
the first case, or the human form in the second, strives to preserve, in its cognitive
dealings with the extended world, its identity as coherent and invariable system. In the
Strugatskys, however, we have signs of SF seeking--in line with recent speculation in
science on the human mind as a system in constant participation with the phenomenal
world--to convert Cartesian duality into a relationship of complementarily in the Bohrian
sense of the word.
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